Original Home Learning

Homeschooling saw enormous gains in the last year; experts don’t think it will hold, but the word is out—and spreading

As the weather turned more hospitable last spring, a group of students stood underneath a red tent practicing Taekwondo. They honed their kicking and other skills as part of a lesson from a visiting guest teacher.

But the space wasn’t a typical learning environment—the students all come to The Homeschool Classroom to supplement their home-based education and spend some time in a more traditional setting.

Rebecca Cohen, head teacher and executive director of The Homeschool Classroom, an educational nonprofit in Santa Fe, understands the freedom that comes with designing and using a personalized curriculum for children—where they can also learn new skills like martial arts and mural design—comes with challenges.

For some families, it was worth the effort when traditional schooling no longer was an option after buildings closed to students last year. So more parents than ever turned to the original version of remote learning: homeschooling.

Across the nation the number of families homeschooling their children doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, an Oregon-based think tank. New Mexico’s rates mirrored the national trend; 6.4% of households in the state elected to homeschool their children at the beginning of the 2020-21 school. That number jumped to 14.3% by the middle of the fall semester.

But experts, and the numbers, suggest that interest in homeschooling won’t completely return to 2019 levels.

Brian Ray, president of the home-based education research center in Oregon, points to the closure of school buildings as the most significant reason homeschooling across the country skyrocketed. Ray explains that the explosion of interest varied between areas and demographics, depending on pre-pandemic homeschooling rates.

“Say you’re in a place like Massachusetts, where the rate of homeschooling was, for years, relatively low, then they saw a big growth,” Ray tells SFR. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, between the first week and the 16th week of the 2020-21 school year, rates of homeschooling in Massachusetts rose from 1.5% to 12.1%.

A similar jump was observed across demographics according to the survey. Black families disproportionately eschewed homeschooling prior to last year, with only 3.3% of households opting for home education early in the 2020-21 school year. That number increased to 16.1% four months into the academic year

New Mexico families last year jumped on homeschooling when schools switched to online learning.

“The huge acceleration,” Ray says of the increase in homeschool observed nationally and in the state, “I have no other explanation other than government controls, government lockdowns.”

In New Mexico, 8,862 students registered for homeschooling in the 2019-20 school year, according to the Public Education Department. The agency requires families to enroll in home-study programs when they opt out of traditional schooling.

In the 2020-21 academic year, 16,009 students registered.

Families can register for homeschooling on a rolling basis, which leaves the PED unable to predict the numbers for the upcoming school year. The 1,262 students who registered for homeschooling in June of 2021, compared to the 986 in June of 2020, confirm that interest in homeschooling in New Mexico hasn’t dropped off.

For families in Santa Fe enrolled in home education, The Homeschool Classroom offers support to provide a well-rounded curriculum, says Cohen.

“It’s a classroom setting that helps to supplement homeschool families’ programs, or to give them a program,” she says.

Cohen acknowledges that many families new to homeschooling need support developing a program while offering their kids socialization opportunities.

“We teach that equal power through institutions is a change our world has to come to,” says Cohen. Her non-traditional schooling model puts multicultural education first: “Our world approach is all inclusive.”

Kerry Lee, whose son has attended The Homeschool Classroom for the past four years, explains his family opted for homeschooling after years at a public elementary school.

“We really wanted to find the right fit, the right avenue, the right facilities for him,” Lee tells SFR. “It’s a personalized learning situation, project-based, really child-centered” education that Lee wanted for his son, Kayden, 13, to explore his interests in a smaller learning environment.

Ray explains interest in the alternative education model has grown steadily for the past 30 years, though nothing compared to the jump homeschooling experienced last year.

Ray figures the surge won’t last.

“What we’ll probably see this fall, is that probably going to go down,” Ray says, but he also acknowledges that some families who tried homeschooling in the past year thought it was better for their children: “I don’t think it’s going to go all the way down” to levels similar to 2019, before the pandemic, he says.

Lee says the disruption of traditional education last year has made people curious about homeschooling.

“A lot of people are reaching out to us, asking questions about how we handle the education of our son and what we felt were the positives about it,” Lee says, adding that the interest is growing with the continuing uncertainty of COVID-19 and with public schools set to reopen in August.

While Lee highlights the positive impact homeschooling has had on his son, he knows it won’t work for every family.

“The most important thing is finding the best fit—whether it’s public or private or charter—for the student,” he says.

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